Sewing: Violet Top

I hate giving up, but I have to call this one. You know sometimes, you’re working on a project and you lose sight of why  you’re working on it? That’s  how it’s going with the Violet Top, from Colette Patterns.

Violet_top

I seriously don’t even remember when I started working on this shirt. It was at least a year and a half ago. There’s really no excuse for dawdling like I did, except that I just wasn’t feeling the top. As I kept working, my thoughts about the shirt kept getting worse and worse.

And that has nothing to do with the pattern. Dear pattern, it’s totally not you, it’s me. I chose the wrong fabric for the top. It’s really stiff; it doesn’t drape right. It’s kind of unflattering on me. I think the interfacing I used was too heavy.

This shirt is a trainwreck, so I’m stopping, just short of putting the buttons on.

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t use a quilting weight cotton. It’s way too (at least the one I used) heavy and stiff
  • Stop sewing when you lose interest in a project. I’ve a backlog of sewing projects because I wanted to finish this one before I stared anything else.
  • Buttonholes aren’t that scary. You can always use snaps instead (at least I’m guessing; I quit before the buttons).

I’ll revisit the Violet top in a few projects, using a lighter fabric, and maybe skipping the interfacing, to see how it goes.

Shopping: Summer Sales – Boden (part 2)

Now for the items that actually did work out for me from my Boden sale order: two shirts and a blazer. I have the Vintage Sun Top from last year, which has a Peter Pan collar and fabric covered buttons up the back.

boden_silky_vintage_top

The Silky Vintage Top available this year is similar, except it doesn’t have the collar and it has princess seams up and down the front, with two vents at the hem. My first pick for the shirt was actually the blue vertical stripes, but the blue floral was $30 cheaper, and just as pretty, so I went with that one. It’s actually a bit more blue in person than it is showing in the photo above or on Boden’s website.

It’s a good fit in a 6, and it washes well, even though it’s a viscose-silk blend. I actually managed to run over it with an iron right after it came out of the dryer and that restored it to its pre-washing state. I didn’t notice any shrinking.

boden_ivory_shirt

I ordered the Betty top on kind of a whim. I was in need of a white/off-white/ivory blouse and at the end of the sale, Betty was marked down to something like $26.

It’s a light, whispery top that’s a bit on the sheer side, but not as sheer as the plain white version of Boden’s sleeveless shirt this season, which I ordered and returned. The Betty is also very blousy, making it a good tucking in shirt. You could wear it untucked with slim fitting pants, but that’s not really my style.

Like the Silky Vintage top, it washes well and I didn’t notice any shrinking after washing, skipping the dryer and ironing it while still damp. I may go back for more colors.

boden_shirt_closeupThere’s a close-up of the ruffly bit at the collar. I’m not really a ruffles person, but this ruffle isn’t too much. It also doesn’t get mangled in the wash, which is helpful.

Last item is the Fleur Tux. I’m too lazy and it’s too hot to snap a picture wearing a long sleeve blazer, so you’ll just have to trust me that it works. The tuxedo jacket is made of lyocell, a type of rayon fabric. It’s got a really soft hand and drapes well. My only gripe about it is that it has a single hook and eye closure, which has a habit of coming unhooked.

At the time of writing, all three items are still available, in the clearance section of Boden’s website.

Sewing: Pleated Midi Skirt

After much delay (partly due to the fact that the room I sew in isn’t climate controlled and gets pretty hot during the summer months), I’ve finally finished a few sewing projects. First up is a pleated skirt, based on this skirt tutorial, made using a wool/cotton gabardine from Liberty of London.

pleated_skirt_liberty_fabric

There it is on Millie, my dress form. And here’s a picture of me wearing it on Instagram.

All in all, the skirt was pretty easy to make. I used less than a yard of 55 inch (or so) fabric. There’s an invisible zipper on the side, and a few hooks and eyes to  close the waistband.

liberty_skirt_zipper_closeup

Were I to make another version of the skirt, I though I would reduce the size of waistband. It’s currently 2 inches. I think I’d make it 1 inch or so, as that would work better with the actual shape and height of my waist (I have a short one). I think I would also position the zipper a little higher on the skirt, so that it attaches on the waistband, too, not just on the body of the skirt.

And, I wouldn’t second guess myself when it comes to the size of the skirt. I fussed with the size of the pleats because I was terrified that the skirt wouldn’t fit (for the record, Millie is actually a little bigger than me, which I should probably adjust, so that I stop panicking that the things I make don’t fit.) Anyway, fussing with the pleat size messed with the balance and overall fit of the skirt, making it too big, so that I had to trim from the sides. It wasn’t a good scene.

I went with a length that is just below the knee. I was thinking of making the skirt longer, but I wanted a thick hem to help it hang better, so I ended up having to hem it to 25 inches, folding the hem up 4 inches.

All in all, a good skirt to make. Now that I know what I’m doing, my plan is to make one out of a faux leather. We’ll see how that turns out.

Shopping: Summer Sales – Boden (Part 1)

Boden’s summer sale ended a few weeks ago, but since many of the items I ordered ended up marked down in the clearance section, I figured it would be worthwhile to write up a few reviews.

boden_summer_pencil_skirt

First up, the Summer Pencil Skirt  and Tamara Jacket. The two pieces weren’t presented together by Boden at all, either in the catalog or online, but I wanted to make a little suit out of them the minute I spotted them. So cute, am I right?

I was a bit nervous about the fit of the skirt, after reading reviews that stated that it was a bit tight in the hips. Both pieces fit pretty well, though. I went with the long version of the skirt so that it hit just below my knees. The jacket’s sleeves are bracelet length and don’t happen to be super-short on me. My only complaint fit wise has to do with the jacket – it was a bit tight across the back.

The skirt and jacket are made out of a lightweight woven cotton. The light green star detailing you see on it is actually embroidery.

boden_summer_pencil_closeup

There’s a close-up of the stitchwork; it’s pretty lovely. It’s also the reason why I sent the pieces back. Both the skirt and the jacket came with a “Delicate” tag attached to them, warning about the risk of snagging. Oh my. I envisioned myself sitting on a slightly rough park bench, catching some of those strings on a splinter. I foresaw great tragedy when I accidentally bumped into a chain link fence (it has happened). I also envisioned myself spilling red wine, coffee, chocolate, pretty much anything under the sun, on either the skirt or jacket.

Both pieces were so nicely made and so pretty — I just couldn’t trust myself not to ruin them.

boden_tamara_jacket

Shopping: Summer Sales – J. Crew Seersucker Pencil Skirt

In honor of the fact that J.Crew is currently offering up to an additional 75% off certain pieces, and 40% off of a bunch of other items, I thought now would be a good time to post a quick review of skirt I recently got on sale: the Seersucker Pencil Skirt in Fragrant Lavender.

jcrew_seersucker_pencil_skirt

I ordered the skirt last week, when it was marked down to $59.99 plus 40% off (today, it’s $59.99 plus 75% off, so a grand total of $15. But, at the time of writing, it’s only available in size 00). It was final sale at the time, but a light purple skirt was on my want list, so I decided to take the relatively small risk. To improve my chances of getting the right size, I had a quick chat with a customer service rep, who gave me the dimensions of the size 6 and the 8: 30.5 inch waist and 39.5 inch hips and hem for the 6, 31.5 inch waist and 40.5 inch hips and hem for the 8.

I went with the 8, even though the waist was slightly too big, because I  never know about the hips. It was slightly too big, but you really can’t tell looking at the picture, right? It is sitting a good three inches below my actual waist, but the wide waistband kind of obscures that fact.

One interesting thing about the cut of J.Crew’s pencil skirts (or at least this one) compared to others: the hip and hem sweep are the same measurement, which creates a straight up and down look, compared to the more shapely look you get when the hem is a few inches narrower that the hips. By way of comparison, I recently tried on a skirt from Boden with 39.5 inch hips and 36.5 hem. The effect was much more curvy, while here I just look like a stick.

 

jcrew_seersucker_pencil_skirt_closeup

I was kind of expecting a brighter shade of lavender, but this one is pretty pale. From a distance you can’t really see the stripes. I guess that’s fine, it makes the skirt more of a neutral than it would be if it were more in-your-face purple.

The fabric is very lightweight on the skirt, even with a poly lining. I actually have another seersucker skirt (I really like seersucker) from Banana in light blue that I compared to this one. The fabric on the Banana skirt is much heavier. The Banana skirt is also about an inch narrower and fits fine, so maybe I should have gone with the 6. Too late now, though.

All said, I’m pretty happy with it. Which is good, because I can’t send it back.

Books: What I’ve Read This Past Spring

I’m still on track to get to my goal of reading 50 books by the end of the year, and here’s a round of up the books I’ve read this past quarter/season. Although I’m starting to wonder about the virtue of choosing quantity over quality when it comes to reading. Should I be aiming for X amount of books or should I be aiming for really challenging reads? Some books are super quick reads, but they’re the written equivalent of a milk chocolate bar, satisfying and sweet, but don’t really do much for you in the end. I think this list is a fair balance of high and low reads, some candy mixed in with more mentally nutritious stuff.

April

Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl is pretty much the fictional version of her memoir How to Be a Woman. Here we have a young woman from a poor family in the West Midlands who goes about reinventing herself after a big embarrassment on local TV. Our lead character, Johanna, renames herself Dolly Wilde and sets out to be a rock n roll journalist in London. She gets a gig, starts writing, and quickly loses sight of who she really is, lost in all the sex and anger and Mad Dog that goes with being a teenager at any time and particularly goes with being a teenager who wants to escape herself.

 

April was a bit of a feministy reading month for me. Next up was Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, her memoir.  Another short, fun read, but also a bit of a dark one, or at least darker than the other funny women memoirs I’ve read. By which I mean, Poehler talks about drugs and sex and also a bit about taking charge of your life. I momentarily turned into a bitchier person after reading this book, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

 

Will people ever stop writing stories about missing kids? Will I ever stop reading novels and watching television shows about them? Remember Me Like This has a bit of a different ending compared to most child’s gone missing stories, in that the story focuses on the aftermath when the kid reappears after several years. Will the family seek revenge or let the law do its job? Is the impact of the son’s return worse than if he had stayed gone?

Another way that Remember Me Like This stood out from similar stories is that it was a lot more clinical and cold feeling. It felt more journalistic in style, as though the author were presenting the facts instead of creating a story.

 

More feministy stuff. Bad Feminist is an amazing book. I’m so glad that Roxane Gay shares my love of Sweet Valley High, even while recognizing that it’s bad stuff, and that she also read the terrible Sweet Valley Confidential. I’m so glad she loves Scrabble and that she plays in tournaments. I’m also glad that she’s able to write deeply nuanced essays on the more serious things in life just as well as she’s able to write thoughtful essays on pop culture crap. The book is probably the most genuine thing I will read all year.

 

 

I felt that what I was reading April was a little too light-hearted (feminism and missing kids aside), so I finally read the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I have nothing to add to what’s been said about the book before, but it was a worthwhile read and I learned a lot about medical ethics from it.

May

 

If April’s reading was light hearted, May’s was anything but. I started out with Elephant Company, about James Williams, aka Elephant Bill, who trained elephants in colonial Burma in the early 20th century. I know, I didn’t really want to read it either, but it was a book club selection, so I figured, why not?

The book surprised me and was actually pretty engaging. Elephants are magnificent creatures and I feel glad to have read it just to learn more about them. I could take or leave the bit about traveling across Burma during World War II, but I feel that way about any “war” section of a book.

 

I owe a lot of my political thinking to reading Naomi Klein at a young age. I enjoy her work, but that doesn’t mean that This Changes Everything was an enjoyable read. Instead, it’s a walk-through of missed opportunities and frustration at government actions that undermine any good work that has been done, seemingly, to fight climate change and destruction. It is a challenging and at times frustrating read, but it ends on a positive note. Klein argues that the people are starting to shift the tide and take action to keep climate change from being as terrible as it could be. There’s a lot of work to be done, but she gives us  hope.

 

Yeah, this is a Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic, season 10, volume 1. I guess the series is getting a little played out at this point, but I’ll probably keep reading them. Dracula returns in this one, Xander gets to do his sad slave to Dracula bit, Dawn (who was nearly erased when magic went away (spoilers, by the way)), doesn’t remember loving Xander, and now some vampires can go out and about in the sunlight. What will we do? Read the rest of season 10, I guess.

 

There are a lot of great books that were published when I was in college that I completely missed. We Need to Talk About Kevin is one of them. (Look at Me, which I just finished reading, was another). The book is told in letters from a wife to her husband after their son does something absolutely terrible. She’s using the letters to trace their story together. It’s not so much that she needs to make sense of what her son (Kevin) has done, but to prove to her husband that she was right about him all along. At least, that’s how I read it. Some argue that she’s working her way through blame or that she feels really guilty about how her role as a parent led to Kevin’s violence. It’s an in-depth look at what can happen when a person who doesn’t want children has them and has to deal with the fact that she doesn’t love her child the way she’s supposed to.

June

After all that gloom and doom in May, I started off June with a bit of post-modern historical fiction, in the form of the novel Viper Wine. Featuring historical characters and a lot of anachronism, the novel focuses on Venetia Stanley, who was once a great beauty. At the start of the story, she’s in her early 30’s, fat from having children, and feeling less than her best. In an attempt to regain her magic, she seeks out a potion, called viper wine, which does make her more youthful looking and prettier, but at a high cost.

Although the book was an enjoyable read, I’m not sure that the anachronisms (Venetia’s husband, an alchemist, is able to reach forward in time, and regularly  hears snatches of pop songs, for example) really did much to help it. It felt a little too pedantic and as though the author was trying  a bit too hard to make a connection between the often out-there things women did for beauty back then (belladonna in the eyes, snails, viper wine), and the things women do for beauty today (Botox, fat dissolving shots, and vampire facelifts). The characters might be based on people who really lived, but they did end up feeling a bit flat and undeveloped.

 

The Girl on the Train is one of those books you can’t really discuss in depth without giving away some of the plot. I can’t really get into a discussion about the depth of character here or how the author really played with your perceptions of things without telling you all who did it. So, I won’t. But, know this: my first thought when reading this was that all of the women characters were over the top, female stereotypes, which annoyed me. But, in the end, I think that was part of the point, to demonstrate the way they were played and manipulated by someone throughout the book.

 

I really like Ian McEwan’s books, and Sweet Tooth is no exception. This was the second time I’ve read it. Like some of his other works, there’s a twist at the end that plays with your perception of who is telling the story. The book is narrated by Serena Frome, a just-graduated-from-university (Cambridge) young woman who is recruited to MI-5 in the 1970s. She doesn’t expect much from the job, as back then, women didn’t really get to do much, but soon finds herself running an agent, in the form of a talented young writer (who seems to write stories that bear a lot of similarity to McEwan’s early work) the ministry wants to use to promote anti-Communist ideas, all while not appearing to have any role in at all. It’s a pretty clever book.

Shopping: Banana Republic Non Iron Shirt

Ironing has to be my least favorite chore. Yet, some of my favorite things to wear are stiff cotton button up shirts. It’s a weird position to find myself in and what usually ends up happening is that I work my way through all of my needs-ironing clothes until I’m left with nothing to wear. Then, I need to spend a few hours ironing everything until I have a wardrobe reset. In some ways, it’s like getting new clothes to wear. In other ways, it’s a giant pain in the ass.

banana_republic_noniron_shirt

That all said, it makes sense that I’m a big fan of the non-iron shirts from Banana Republic. I have a few and recently got a new one to add to my collection, the Geo Sleeveless Shirt. (here’s a similar, non-patterned one.) As you can see in the picture above, “non iron” might be a bit of a misnomer, as the shirt is a bit wrinkly. I usually find that the shirts do require a quick once over with an iron to refresh them, but not as extensive an ironing as plain cotton shirts.

The sleeveless, fitted button front shirt is one of my favorite styles, since it looks pretty flattering on me. It’s also a style that’s relatively hard to find these days, as most button front shirts, sleeveless or not, are cut away from the body. I know that’s on trend and fashionable, but I look terrible in that cut. So, thanks to Banana for continuing to make fitted shirts, particularly non-iron ones.

banana_republic_noniron_shirt_geoprint

I went with a 6 in this year’s style. In year’s past, I tried a 4, which was very fitted, and almost too tight, and both a 4 and 6. Although a 6 is a bit loose, it fits better around the shoulders and arms. The one issue I have with these shirts is the collar. It’s on the large side and a bit stiff. I usually like to button my shirts all the way up, but the collar is so stiff on this one that it’s just too uncomfortable to do. There’s also some weird gapping between buttons. In the past, I’ve stitched that down, but that makes it a bit more difficult to actually put the top on, since you can’t unbutton it.

The non iron shirts aren’t perfect, but I still like them.